1. Involve your children in the process of buying and preparing food. Let them explore the produce bins with you, absorbing all the different shapes and colors of fruits and veggies. Let them mix and chop in the kitchen. The more your child is exposed to the texture, appearance and aroma of a food, the less foreign it will seem when it appears on the dinner table.
2. Limit the "crutch" foods and drinks. Some kids get their calorie fix in between meals with sugary drinks (even fruit juices can hurt your cause) and other snacks. Limit snacking between meals so that everyone has a good appetite at lunch and dinner time. A hungry eater is naturally more adventurous.
3. Don't force your child to eat new foods. Start by just putting a serving on their plate so that they can become familiar with the scent and appearance of the dish. It may take several rounds of this before your child is brave enough to try a bite. Toddlers may put a little in their mouths and even remove it—and that's OK. Every exposure increases the likelihood that they'll learn to enjoy the food eventually.
4. Give your child options. When preparing a meal with new foods, make some other healthy staples like whole grain bread, fruit or cheese available. This way, if your child doesn't eat enough of the new food to feel satisfied, they'll have healthy choices to fall back on.
5. Can't get as much variety into your child's diet as you'd like? Give yourself permission to be a little sneaky. You can puree green peppers, squash or other veggies and add them to familiar foods like spaghetti sauce to boost nutritional value without the drama. This can't be the sum total of your strategy, however, as they need to learn to enjoy the true flavors and textures of those foods to achieve a balanced diet as adolescents and adults.
6. Don't turn into a short order cook. If you respond to your child's rejection of the meal by offering to prepare something different for him, you're encouraging the behavior. If your child learns that the meal in front of him is the only game in town until the next mealtime, he might think twice before pushing away his plate.
7. Don't offer dessert as a reward. This confirms the notion that the dessert is the preferable food, and the other foods are just a means to an end. Occasional desserts are OK, but don't put yourself in the position of always needing one as a negotiating tool.
8. Let your child respect his hunger cues. Most small children eat when they're hungry and abstain when they're not. By forcing a child to eat a meal or snack when they're just not hungry teaches them to ignore this important internal signal. But don't let them play the "not hungry" card at mealtime only to ask for another snack in a half-hour.
9. Make mealtime a priority. Kids whose families have regular mealtimes together have a greater chance of learning to like new foods. Remove distractions like the TV or other media so that you can all focus on what matters most—family and delicious food!
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